Mastering the art of speaking to an audience

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By Liz Kentish.

Unfortunately, a lot of business leaders leave a lot to be desired when it comes to public speaking. It is a tough thing to do and doesn’t come naturally to us all. However it’s part and parcel for senior management to give the occasional presentation, host industry talks and make company wide speeches, so it’s worth brushing up on the skills and techniques it takes to do them with ease and make them as powerful as possible.

Unless you’ve been in hiding for the past few weeks (who could blame you), you will have no doubt watched at least one high profile speech… What with a final address to a Nation, Presidential inauguration, Hollywood awards ceremony, Brexit plan and various other happenings taking place.

The aforementioned folk took centre stage this month to speak to hundreds upon thousands of people, from all pockets of the globe. The pressure to get their personal messages across to such large audiences would’ve been no easy feat. In light of this eclectic mix of speeches, here’s some advice on how to deliver a memorable and captivating speech, while maintaining poise, grace and respect…

Martin Luther King Day also happened to fall in January. Supreme public speaker and activist, he is no doubt remembered by most for his iconic “I have a dream” speech, which he gave in 1963. Perhaps one of the reasons this speech is imprinted so strongly on the minds of citizens is because he made it so relatable and human. Drawing on the dream analogy, King made his speech accessible to everyone and immediately captured attention, and hearts. Using anecdotes and real life examples in your speeches or presentations shows people that you’re on the same level, giving them real reason to believe in what you’re saying.

Whether you’re speaking in front of a collection of colleagues, a conference hall full of strangers, a room full of award winning actors or in front of the entire nation and then some, you need to know your audience. Think about why your audience is there and why they should be listening to you. What is it that they are hoping to learn, what do you want to teach them, and how can you connect with them in the best way possible? Being confident in the fact that you are going to deliver something that is useful to your audience will in turn boost your own confidence and conviction.

The power of public speaking is immeasurable and goes way beyond just the words printed upon the cue card in your hand. Most experts agree that over 50 per cent of our communication is made up of body language. With this in mind, it pays to make sure that you stand up straight, keep eye contact with your audience and either adopt an open stance or keep moving around the stage. If you’re nervous, this can be obvious and come across in how you present yourself. Have a glass of water at the ready, remember to breathe and just take your time.

Don’t be afraid to use emotive language to communicate your message and your passion; public speaking after all is about informing, persuading and entertaining. Conversely, letting your audience see your own emotion is equally as effective. Permit your passion and enthusiasm to show through, either in your tone of voice or in your demeanor and you’ll find that people connect with you and your mission, making your speech both memorable, and compelling.

This article originally appeared in Professional Manager.

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